The best way to work on letter identification is through sensory- motor based learning. What I mean, is that when we crawl, hear hop, look, stretch, run, feel, climb, touch, and push, the brain is at an optimal state for learning and retention.
In this activity, we were working on upper case letters (remember that its best to teach letter identification for uppercase then lowercase letters). We had been working on the Frog Jump Capitals (Handwriting Without Tears) and so I took 4 of the ones the child new and added the next two. The letters were written on one of the foam shapes and then scattered upsidedown in the gym. The letters were also written on the chalkboard. I wrote several on the chalkboard that were not hiding so that it increased the visual discrimination work that was demanded. Then I called out the letter that the pirates were looking for (I was the pirate and the child was the pirate on the treasure hunt) and he then had to follow the path (steps/foam blocks) to retrieve only the letter that was called out. Since the letters were written on the chalkboard out of sight from where the letters were hidden, the child had to rely on auditory memory and visual memory. The child then brought back the foam letter to the chalkboard and squeezed the clothespin to place it above the stimulus letter. The game could easily be modified for any level of difficulty. Fun!
I've seen where others used these stamps with play dough ( on Pinterest) but my Play Dough had tried out so I was happy to see that they work great with Magnetic Sand! I am always happy to find interesting ways to have my kiddos practice letter identification and handwriting.
I love that you can imprint a line (using a pencil edge or ruler) and have kids practice "writing" their words right on the line. This is a fun way to practice alignment.
How fun that this company also make lower case letters. I'll be making that purchase soon. Happy stamping.
Once a child has learned to identify uppercase letters, then its a good time to start learning how to "build" them . Its best to build the letters before actually writing them, because the building helps children remember the strokes needed and the large muscle movement is great because it helps them to integrate what they have learned. I used this simple activity with a child that was also working on core and upper body strength. He brought along a favorite stuffed animal, so I gladly let the doggie play too.
Platform swing or a therapy ball will work well too
Various wooden shapes (or make your own) from Handwriting Without Tears
Building Mat (in orange here, which is a 9.5x11 foam with smiley face in upper left corner)
Uppercase letter card (or if you child knows the strokes, then you can call out to them)
I spread out the shapes and he worked on finding and building each uppercase letter one at a time. I put some shapes further away so he'd have to pull and crawl to retrieve the shape (therefore using core and upper body strength).
Once he found the shapes needed, he built the letter on the mat beside the stimulus. You can modify the activity to be more or less challenging. For example: to make it harder, you could take away the stimulus cards and ask child to find a "big line and a big curve" and then see if they can make a letter with it (D).
I love this stuff. Way back, us therapists had to order blah putty from rehab suppliers and although it worked, it was just, blah. Crazy Aaron has a variety of putty and kids love it. Adults love it. Other than being fun, and a tactile experience, what do therapists use it for?
Most of my kiddos I see at Learning Charms need hand and finger strengthening and tendon excursion. These things are necessary for proper fine motor skills (think handwriting and arts).
Often I use it initially for preschoolers who are not exhibiting a functional crayon grasp, such as in the picture here. In this picture, this little girl is using a whole hand grasp for drawing. She also has difficulty with buttoning, cutting and manipulating small items.
There seems to be lots of questions each year about what is on the CAIS (Charlotte Area Independent Schools) tests for pre-schoolers. First of all, not all private schools participate in CAIS testing. The private schools that do require it (as of today) are:
Charlotte Christian School
Charlotte Country Day School
Charlotte Latin School
Charlotte Preparatory School
Providence Day School and
Trinity Episcopal School
The CAIS test looks at kindergarten readiness in a variety of areas. The CAIS testing for preschool students are administered by a licensed psychologist that is on the CAIS approved list. For the 2014-15 school year, there are 10 psychologists that can administer testing, including: Melanie Powell, Frank Gaskill (Southeast Psych) and Trey Ishee (Southeast Psych).
The assessment is the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-IV). Here are some of the areas it tests:
Often, we get occupational therapy referrals from these CAIS tests. The psychologists will note a deficit in an area that needs improvement and suggest O.T. prior to entrance to kindergarten. Really good psychologists will also note children who need to work on their pencil grasp, handwriting, motor skills and processing speed. Sometimes a referral is made to a speech therapist if verbal areas need improvement.
There are times when a child will get "conditional" acceptance to a school based on the criteria that a child makes improvement in a needed area. Schools may even ask for a written progress report from speech or occupational therapy to demonstrate adequate progress and parental involvement.
Pencil grasp questions are common with parents so I will try and provide some thoughts on the matter. There are lots of components that go into handwriting competence (see my previous blog on handwriting ), but the most obvious one is grasp.
How do grasps develop? Children learn to grasp objects from the time that they shake a rattle. Development begins at the core (proximal) and develops outward (distally). So, if you don't have good core you may have difficulty with handwriting. Efficient handwriting uses the small, intrinsic muscles of the hand. These intrinsic muscles are designed for dexterity, not strength. The muscles on the side of your thumb are your movers and the ones near your pinky finger are your stabilizers. A proper grasp ensures that handwriting is being produced by these small muscles so that there is a precise between movement and stabilization.
How are our toys changing grasps? Kids learn proper grasp patterns by playing with fine motor toys, finger foods, and coloring. This develops and refines over time. However, as toys change, so do fine motor exposure. Small pieces in toys have long since been replace with big pieces due to choking hazards. Thus, a reduction in exposure to small toys/parts requiring dexterity.
What does a proper / functional grasp look like? A functional grasp is one that allows the little muscles of the hand to work, not the big one. There are 3 optimal grasps: Dynamic Tripod, Modified Quadrupod, and the Adapted Tripod Grasp.
What does an inefficient grasp look like? A child should start developing an efficient grasp by their fifth birthday or within that year. Most inefficient grasps are developed, not only from lack of proper fine motor toys/experiences, but also from writing /drawing with large or heavy markers and pencils, along with just writing too early (before the hand has fully developed). This creates habits which can be hard to break. Here are some pics of INEFFICIENT GRASPS:
How can I improve my child's grasp?
Around the age of 3, I recommend using crayons that have been broken down to no more than 1" long. If your child still tends to put everything in the mouth, then you'll want to either supervise or wait until they have kicked the habit. For girls, DO NOT, I say, DO NOT break them in front of them as their heart may break! For boys, they will enjoy it and will likely help you in breaking the rest of the crayons in the house. :--)
Activities that strengthen grasp are:
2) spray bottles
3)picking up coins and putting into piggy bank
4) hiding and seeking beads/coins in theraputty or in PlayDough
5) stringing beads (start with large and go smaller as child improves)
6) craft projects with scissors, stampers, hole punchers, etc
7) allow child the time to get dressed fully by him/herself
8) if you need more ideas, go Google crazy! There are tons of great posts by O.T.s and teacher
My child doesn't have a good grasp, but the handwriting is fine. Should I worry?
If your child is past 1st grade them changing grasp is quite difficult. Having an inefficient grasp will not make your child lose vocational ability. For the most part, an inefficient grasp may cause issues as the demands of amount and speed of handwriting increase (think middle school). Your child may complain of : hand fatigue, arm fatigue, not keeping up with note taking, and sometimes a callous on the middle or ring finger. Cursive may be more difficult to execute because it requires more precision and flow. If the student is past 1st grade, I simply show him/her some options for a grasp (such as the adapted tripod below) and explain why and what they can do when their hand hurts from writing.
Most of our clients come to us to improve some component of handwriting (manuscript/print/cursive) skill. Parents often question why occupational therapists work with handwriting so much.
Handwriting is a very complicated neurological and anatomical process. Usually poor or inefficient handwriting or penmanship is most often the symptom of a developmental process that is not functioning smoothly. When a well trained pediatric occupational therapist evaluates handwriting issues, they should be evaluating specific developmental areas.
Optimal handwriting skills also require fundamental skills such as:
upper body strength
visual motor integration (also known as eye hand coordination)
visual perception (vision to brain processing)
pencil grasp, finger strength and
When children participate in needed occupational therapy, the child is more successful in academic work. Often, if a child does not make quick progress through conventional academic tutoring then the student may have a developmental need, not an academic need. If your child is typically developing and has participated in handwriting tutoring by someone other than an O.T. for more than 2-3 months without great improvement---then it is likely not an academic need.
Yesterday, our Mini Charmer's class enjoyed our rice tubs that had letter stickers "hiding" in them. The kids were instructed to find and then match letters (building a letter team) on the wall. The boys liked counting and keeping current stats. The "W" team ended up winning with the most! This activity helps with letter recognition (visual discrimination), sensory processing, pre-handwriting, fine motor dexterity and team work.
On the other center, kids were instructed to pick out a stencil and use 2-3 marker colors to create the design on a coffee filter. Once done, we put the filter over a white piece of construction paper. The kids then used a spray bottle to squirt about 5 squirts on the design. The colors bleed together to make a cool design. Kids will lift the coffee filters this coming week to see what kind of design it made on the construction paper. This activity helps with pencil grasp, non-dominant stabilization, truck stability, finger/hand strength, and sensory exploration.
Our weekly "Mini Charmers" preschool class gets to play with lots of messy sensory activities that encourage handwriting preparation. Yep, thats right. Work on handwriting without doing handwriting. In the studio, we had a few centers going at once.
Our first center was the cornstarch tubs. Lots of gooey cornstarch, mixed with water, washable paint and small things thrown in. Kids were Encouraged to find and pull out everything they could find-- from frogs to tiny perler beads. The cornstarch is resistive, so this works the finger muscles. The activity also encourages tactile processing as children have to distinguish between textures.
Another preparatory center was our "N" and "M" activity. They cut the big lines out of magazines and placed them on the construction paper. Building letters is a great reinforcer for visual memory of letters and for the stroke too. We use Handwriting Without Tears curriculum so there are lots of building and writing inside of boxes and with consistent language.
In another center were our clothespin activities. Miss. Kelly and the OT students made these foam sea creatures, etc, a few minutes before class. Kids loved adding legs and candles!
Then, we always have our group direct handwriting instruction for our letters of the week. These kids are laying on their stomachs as it increases core strength and helps their forearms and hands be in the correct position. You can see that these 4 years olds are writing their letters very well and independently. These are some bright Charlotte kids!
About the blogger: Stephanie Wick is a pediatric occupational therapist that founded and is lead O.T. at Learning Charms.
Read past Blog here